Stephen Fry, a couple of weeks ago, decided to stop using Twitter. He was offended by one of his many followers calling his tweets “boring”. Thankfully, he is back and even though he was annoyed by the comment he has since DM’d the chap who made the criticism, and we are led to believe everyone is happy again and normal service has been resumed.

In a similar, but much less grander scale, I was nominated as “Pr*ck of the Year” on Twitter; have being associated with a pregnant goldfish; and had both my intelligence and parenthood brought into question. This was all down to a blog post (not on Econsultancy I might add) in which I had written about how a political party was using Twitter at their party conference.

Many organisations have been on the receiving end of similar comments, which stick around for sometime on the web. But is there anything that organisation can do to tap into this behaviour and turn it to their and their customers’ advantage?

I wasn’t offended, in fact, I did find it quite amusing and I wondered how my award (which, by the way, I’ve yet to receive) had been judged and who had been on the judging panel. Anyway, what it did spark was a desire to review other similar activity across the social web and whether or not people felt they could be more *forthright* in their conversation, compared with face to face situations.

No surprises here. As it is quite clear the social web offers many platforms where people will show their true feelings, which they wouldn’t necessarily do elsewhere. In fact, it does appear that many will move to the other extreme; rather than keeping quiet (as many people do in face to face situations), they will speak their mind in a very frank way, even to the extent where it becomes abusive. This is something that may normally be classed as ‘out of character’, but the truth may be that it is very much in character.

The other fascinating thing was the ‘hunting in packs’ mentality. It appears that if an individual, of perceived influence, makes a comment others will follow suit.  They appear to enjoy the freedom to offer abuse without the potential hazards or threats which may manifest themselves in an offline environment. Following comment threads in blogs and Twitter, it is clear that friends and peers are positively encouraged to ‘stick the boot in’ by the sharing of links and the compliments that ensue concerning the sharpness and wit of comment made.

Does this show a real side of human nature, that is not necessarily apparent elsewhere? If so, can brands tap into this and harness this behaviour?

Many organisations have been on the receiving end of such complaints and in some cases it has been deserved due to the quality of their offering being sub-standard. However, there are no rules on the social web, so it is very easy for groups to get carried away with the moment, and they may go too far and exaggerate and embellish the facts. Unfortunately, businesses have to take this on the chin. Such comments on the web tend to stick around for some time and bob around in the natural search rankings, specifically associated with brand terms.

So what can be done? Well isn’t the answer staring organisations in the face? These people are obviously social web savvy, prepared to offer opinion and are passionate. Therefore, doesn’t it make sense for brands to welcome such feedback and embrace it? Invite these people to offer feedback direct to them, making suggestions on improvements of products and services, providing really valuable consumer insight which no focus group would uncover.

This approach would demonstrate a brand really cares, it wants to improve and it has taken the time and effort to listen and interact. The outcome of which could be a much improved offering, which people will commit to. Those who had their feedback solicited would feel very much part of the brand community. Ultimately they would become advocates.

Of course, organisations can continue to ignore such comment, in the hope that it goes away. The reality is, it won’t and it will most probably get worse opening the door for the competition to very easily increase their market share.